December’s election aftermath offered a good chance to learn synonyms for “crushing defeat” and “overwhelming victory.” Taihai (大敗, great defeat), kanpai (完敗, total defeat) — not to be confused with kanpai! (乾杯, cheers!) — kaimetsutekina haiboku (壊滅的な敗北, annihilating defeat), zanpai (惨敗, crushing defeat), rekishitekina haiboku (歴史的な敗北, historic defeat) on the one side; taisho (大勝, great victory); assho (圧勝, landslide) on the other. If defeat predominates in this list it’s because the media tended to focus more on the incumbent’s defeat than on the challenger’s victory. As the Nihon Keizai Shimbun editorialized, “Jiminto ga taisho shita to iu yori, minshuto ga sanpai shita senkyo datta (自民党が大勝したというより、民主党が惨敗した選挙だった, Rather than a great victory for the Liberal Democratic Party [LDP], the election was a pitiful defeat for the Democratic Party of Japan [DPJ].”)
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in the first flush of 大勝, seemed not unaware of this. He said, “Jiminto ni kanzen ni shinrai ga modotta to iu koto de wa nai (自民党に完全に信頼が戻ったということではない, Trust has not completely returned to the LDP.”) The Yomiuri Shimbun, which shares the LDP’s rightwing slant, warned, “Jiminto wa ogotte wa naranai (自民党は奢ってはならない, The LDP is in no position to boast.”)
So far it’s not boasting. Abe said, humbly enough, “Kekka wo dashite iku koto de kokumin no shinnin wo ete iku (結果を出していくことで国民の信任を得ていく, We will deliver results and earn the people’s confidence.”) What results does he intend to pursue? His hoshuteki (保守的, conservative), not to say takaha (タカ派, hawkish) priorities are well known. Campaign promises aside, he was prime minister once before, in 2006-07, a stint more remembered for his flurried resignation under pressure than for his one notable accomplishment — easing tensions with China. He talked much then about his vision of utsukushii Nippon (美しい日本, beautiful Japan), the national beauty reflected especially in citizens willing to kuni no tame ni inochi wo kakeru (国のために命を懸ける, put their lives on the line for their country). Clearly this harks back to World War II and to attitudes that Japan’s defeat was supposed to have rendered extinct.
In the campaign just past, Abe said little about 美しい日本, but was frank enough about his aims and aspirations, which seem to have changed little. To consider just those aspects of his platform with international implications, he wants to Kenpō wo kaisei suru (憲法を改正する, revise the Constitution), easing or erasing its ban on war; he wants to recast the jieitai (自衛隊, Self-Defense Forces) as a kokubōgun (国防軍, National Defense Force). 軍 (gun) means army and represents the sweeping away of a postwar taboo. Abe champions shūdanteki jieiken (集団的自衛権, the right of collective defense) — now banned, though its definition is murky. With regard to the Senkaku Shotō (尖閣諸島, Senkaku Islands) controlled by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan, Abe would kōmuin wo jōchū saseru (公務員を常駐させる, permanently station public officials) on them. And concerning the Takeshima Islets claimed by Japan but controlled by South Korea, he spoke of sponsoring “Takeshima no Hi” shikiten (竹島の日式典, Takeshima Day ceremonies). Apparent postelection backtracking on the last two points may indicate a latent flexibility not evident in the campaign.
This is the thinking Japan voted for — but does this thinking represent Japan? An Asahi Shimbun editorial asks, “Sore ga hontō ni Nihon no anzen ni tsunagaru no ka (それが本当に日本の安全につながるのか, Is this really conducive to Japan’s security?”) The writer worries about how the kinrinshokoku (近隣諸国, neighboring countries) will take this — not lying down, presumably — and adds, “Beikoku kara mo Nihon no ukeika e no kenen ga dete iru ori de mo aru (米国からも日本の右傾化への懸念が出ている折でもある, The United States too has at times shown concern over Japan’s rightward tilt.”)
Twelve parties, most of them very small, competed in the election, scrambling to form a daisankyoku (第三極, third force). The Nippon Ishin no Kai (日本維新の会, Japan Restoration Party), co-led by Shintaro Ishihara and Toru Hashimoto and no less タカ派 than the LDP, formed its vanguard and won 54 seats — respectable but considerably fewer than it had hoped.
The DPJ, decimated and devastated, has been left mukashi no omokage wa nai (昔の面影はない, a mere shadow of its former self), many of its most distinguished members having failed to win seats. Before the election they had held 233 giseki (議席, parliamentary seats); they now hold 56 — a mere two more than the fledgling 維新の会.
Former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda promptly announced his resignation as party leader. He said, “Kibishii haiboku ni itatta saidai no sekinin wa watashi ni aru (厳しい敗北にいたった最大の責任は私にある, The greatest responsibility for this harsh defeat lies with me.”) No one is on record as disagreeing.